Racehorse Landslide Fossil Fields- access update


I received a reliable report from Saturday, August 9, 2014 from my friends Bob and Adena on conditions at the Racehorse Creek landslide fossil fields.

Here is the report, which I’ll add to the webpage for the fossil fields ( https://nwgeology.wordpress.com/the-fieldtrips/the-chuckanut-formation/the-racehorse-landslide-fossil-fields/).

It is still possible to find leaf fossils among the brush. These were found in August, 2014.

It is still possible to find leaf fossils among the brush. These were found in August, 2014.

“The place is hardly recognizable. No changes to the trail in from the road (we did some clipping but little was needed) BUT…the smaller slide by the big dead fir tree (DT note- Bob is referring to the fossil fields I describe on the webpage above) is so grown up to six-to-ten foot alders that the only way you know you have reached the end of the trail is when you feel the slope start to steepen. Worse, there’s a tangle of underbrush under the alders, and both brush and leaf duff make it tough to find fossils anywhere except right on the few paths that lead upward through the landslide to the ridge crest; i.e., you easily find only what everyone has already looked over. About 40 vertical feet below the ridge and on up, DNR has cut a lot of alders but not all. There were no alders growing on the main slide debris (beyond the ridge crest).”

So, seems like the trip is no more difficult, but fossil seekers must persevere and be willing to scuff around in the bushes. Visitors are requested to report any new developments.

Geology of the Rock Trail, Larrabee State Park

Tafoni Wall, striped by tree shadows, is a highlight of the Rock Trail.

Tafoni Wall, striped by tree shadows, is a highlight of the Rock Trail.

I have posted a geology guide to Larrabee State Park’s new Rock Trail. Read the full guide here on the Northwest Geology Field Trips website. The out-and-back hike is just short of 2 miles, and the cliff exposures are perhaps the best in the Chuckanuts. The trail, built by prodigious efforts of over 100 volunteers, was profiled in the Bellingham Herald in February.


Red line marks the new Rock Trail. Contour interval is 20'. Note scale in lower left.

Red line marks the new Rock Trail. Contour interval is 20′. Note scale in lower left.

Racehorse Landslide Fossil Beds- big rockfall; trail is brushed out

George Mustoe (WWU Geology Department) visited the famous Chuckanut fossils in the Racehorse Fossil Beds a few days ago. He sends a report  on trail access. (If you aren’t familiar with this place up the Nooksack east of Bellingham, this is the site of the 2009 landslide that exposed the 11-inch-wide foot prints of the 300 pound, 7-foot-tall flightless bird Diatryma, and a host of other animal tracks and plant fossils from the 55-million-year-old Chuckanut Formation. Directions follow George’s trail report. There are many reports on this website about the fossils and the landslide. Go to the older posts and pages.

George’s report:

The largest of the blocks in the 2013 rockfall.

The largest of the blocks in the 2013 rockfall. Click to enlarge any image.

A few days ago I went to Racehorse slide with Gary Coye. We took some gardening tools, and trimmed branches that had grown up along the way trail. There’s presently a clear trail route all they way up from the parking area to the ridge crest, at least until the branches grow back. As for driving, the gravel road is the best I’ve ever seen it in terms of being smooth. This is the first time I’ve been to the slide this year, and I was surprised to see the big rockfall on the scarp face that  must have happened this past winter. I’m attaching some photos, Some of the biggest rocks came from the top edge of the cliff, and carried down intact vegetation. You can see Gary standing on one of the largest blocks, and the scar on the face where the rockfall originated.

The 2013 rock fall came from the upper end of the vertical landslide scarp.

The 2013 rock fall came from the upper end of the vertical landslide scarp.

How to get there:

Google Earth scren capture, looking south

Google Earth scren capture, looking south

These directions are current as of June 23, 2013. Drive the Mount Baker Highway east from I-5 in Bellingham 17 miles to the junction with Mosquito Lake Road. Turn south (right). Cross the North Fork Nooksack, and turn left on the North Fork Road. Set your odometer to 0.0 here. This paved road eventually becomes gravel. You will notice some big blocks and hummocky terrain along the road at about 2.2 miles, the hallmarks of landslides. These are the deposit of a large prehistoric landslide that reached the Nooksack, dwarfing the 2009 slide. The hillsides above  have slid multiple times since the end of the last glacial period, and the mountain itself is called ‘Slide Mountain’. Follow the mainline to a major junction immediately before the bridge across Racehorse Creek, 4.1 miles. Turn right on this gravel logging road, and begin climbing. In about 0.2 mile, you may note a trailhead on the left, with parking on the right. This goes through the woods a couple of hundred yards to the rubble-choked course of Racehorse Creek. A quick trip out this trail reaches the stream. You can walk up-stream a few hundred yards to the lovely multi-tiered water fall.

Continue up the road beyond the trailhead. You will pass  a few side roads, but stay on the main line. Turn sharp left  5.1 miles from Mosquito Lake Road. This left turn is just after a white ’1′ painted on a tall tree on the right, in a clump of woods. The road switchbacks up; pass a couple of minor semi-overgrown spurs to the left.  and is blocked at a fork 5.7 miles from Mosquito Lake Road. 48° 52.295’N, 122° 7.455’W. Walk up the left fork, blocked by deep ditches and mounds of gravel; a trail passes around the right side of these obstacles. Walk up the road 100 yards to the next switchback swinging to the right, next to a high pile of logs. Here is where you take a path into the clearcut, just as the road swings right. The elevation is approximately 1450′, and there is a nice view out to Kendall and the North Fork from here. The entire field trip is on Washington State Department of Natural Resources timber lands. Total driving time from Bellingham is less than an hour. Please consider taking some pruners with you to help keep the trail open, especially where it leaves the road.

The trail reaches the now overgrown landslide debris field in a hundred yards. Here is where to start looking for plant fossils in the broken shards of rock. This is a small ‘overspill’ of the January 2009 landslide. The slide scarp is up the slope and out of site beyond the skyline ridge crest. Pick your way up the ;landslide slope around fallen trees, rock blocks and brush to the skyline, about 200 feet higher. Now you can see the rock face of the scarp to the right, and the upper part of the deposit in the basin below you. The main body of the slide went to the left (east) and down into Racehorse Creek.

Geology guide to Fragrance Lake Trail (Larrabee State Park)

The Christmas Girls had just finished decorating all the sign posts as I pulled into the parking lot. Very festive! Click to enlarge.

The Christmas Girls had just finished decorating all the sign posts as I pulled into the parking lot. Very festive! Click to enlarge.

I’ve written up a geology guide to the popular Fragrance Lake trail. You’ll find it here. Even if the hike is mostly in glacial till, there are interesting stones in it, and the Chuckanut cliffs are always worth a peak. I do some armwaving about the origin of the big cliffs above the lake, too.

Diatryma paper is published

By Dave Tucker November 15, 2012

The giant bird foot track as originally found in the Racehorse Creek landslide. Click to enlarge.

A journal paper about the giant Chuckanut bird tracks attributed to Diatryma giganteus has been published. The authors are George Mustoe, Dave Tucker and Keith Kemplin (George and Keith are the codiscoverers of the tracks). The paper is published in the journal Palaeontology. This enlightened journal allows dissemination of papers via the internet, rather than requiring purchase. So, I am pleased to attach the pdf in this post. It will also be attached to the main page about the giant foot prints. It describes the fossil tracks, why we believe they were made by the giant flightless bird Diatryma, what the tracks tell us about the lifestyle of the big bird, and why we assigned the name Rivavipes giganteus to the tracks. The paper should be readable to about everyone, as specialized terminology is kept to a minimum other than references to the anatomical parts. Click this link to open the research paper pdf file:      Giant Eocene Bird Footprints paper, Palaeontology

Geologic hike on Sumas Mountain, Whatcom County: real geology and a mining hoax

Doug McKeever at the rusted ore cart and the infamous ‘gold vault’ from perhaps the biggest mining scam in the region. Photo courtesy Eric Rolfs.

Hey, take me straight to the field trip!

No, I haven’t finished my book. Time away from the keyboard is important, so what do I do? Go for a hike up Sumas Mountain, come home and write about the geology! I have had this field trip in my head for a while, and needed to share it. I did the hike back in early April with Doug McKeever and Eric Rolfs, but didn’t have my camera, so returned with Scott Linneman May 28. Click here to read the story of an audacious early 19th Century mining scam, and to learn about the geology on this short hike. You’ll also find a rare bonus- an exposure of the basal contact of the Chuckanut Formation, where it overlies the serpentinized ultramafite of Sumas Mountain.

New Eocene painting at WWU Geology museum

The corridor geology exhibits at WWU’s Geology Department features a new diorama by Marlin Peterson. He earlier painted a Diatryma to go along with the giant bird’s footprint on display.(time lapse video of his effort painting the giant bird). The new painting is on the first floor of the ES building, just beyond the western set of elevator doors.

Photo of a digital painting by Marlin Peterson - tapirs stalked by creodonts. Click to enlarge.

Marlin’s painting is of an Eocene tapir protecting its baby from a hunting pack of creodonts. Footprints of both have been found in the Chuckanut Formation, most recently in the rubble of the Racehorse Creek landslide (where the Diatryma tracks came from, too), and the fossil tracks of both are mounted on the wall next to the new mural. (I’ll be featuring the WWU geology museum in my book, Geology Underfoot in Western Washington. The chapter is written, and has been reviewed by George Mustoe and Keith Kemplin).

More cool stuff in the WWU Geology Museum. This is a collection of petrologic microscopes. These are on the ground floor.

It’s a treat to visit Marlin’s  website to see what else this talented artist has done. Though he is traveling in Indonesia right now, having all manner of incredible adventures swimming with manta (ooooh, funny, MS Word tells me this should be ‘mantra’)  rays and barracudas and fighting leeches to climb volcanoes in the jungle, Marlin will eventually drag himself back to paint a gigantic wall mural in Tacoma featuring a daddy long legs spider. Scroll down on his website to read about the grant he received to do this, and to see an idea he has for the painting. Marlin has some great stuff posted on his website, be sure to scroll down further. The one that caught my eye was near the bottom, a painting of a monkey being carried across the Atlantic on a fallen tree back in the Oligocene (23-34 million years ago). Fascinating to read Marlin’s account of this theory for the radiation of “old” world monkeys to the “new”. Curious we still use those relativistic terms, when all the continents were once agglomerated into Pangea.


The WWU Geology Museum is in the corridors of the Environmental Studies building, on the Ground, First, and Second floors. It is open to the public 7 days a week while classes are in session. On weekends, you may need to enter on the First Floor off Haskell Plaza, at the building’s NW corner.

Additions to the Chuckanut fossil gallery at WWU Geology

Tracks of a heron-like bird in the Chuckanut Formation. Thanks to the anonymous woman who allowed me to use her finger for scale.

A number of new rock slabs with fossilized foot prints of Eocene animals have been added to the Chuckanut fossil display at WWU. Visit the webpage on Northwest Geology Field trips.

The exhibit contains new sets of tracks of the giant flightless bird Diatryma, carnivorous creodonts, herons, tapirs, and a goose-like bird, as well as a Diatryma skull reconstruction and two original Eocene dioramas by Marlin Peterson.

Go straight to the webpage.

Virtual field trip to Raptor Ridge geology posted

Looking south from Raptor Ridge. Two unrelated types of eroded grooves cut deeply into the soft sandstone. Click to enlarge.

I’m thankful to the forces of nature that present us with such a wealth of fine places to see geology and the scenery that goes with it. In that spirit, I wrote a guide to geology on the hike to Raptor Ridge in the Chuckanut Mountains, south of Bellingham. There are some rock cliffs, two different styles of eroded grooves eroded in the rock, two erratics, a water fall, and pervasively weathered Chuckanut sandstone. All this is capped with a fine view at the top. Click here to read the guide. It is a nice winter hike, unless there is too much snow. But then, it becomes a really great cross-country ski trip! Just the thing, either way to work off some Thanksgiving over eating. See you on the trail!


Geology at Teddy Bear Cove, Whatcom County

Adena Mooers points to the sharp facies change from sandstone to conglomerate at Teddy Bear Cove. Click to enlarge any image.

Teddy Bear Cove has shoreline exposures of west-dipping Chuckanut Formation conglomerate, and  a couple of nice swimming beaches. It is a Whatcom County Park on Chuckanut Bay reached by a short trail from Chuckanut Drive.

Click here to go to the full page.